2007 - 2021

The Tiger who Came to Tea

It’s clear that many of our cultural institutions are not fit for purpose and are still mired in slightly weird inappropriate dispositions, a historic legacy of a political failure of leadership and decades of cultural misinformation.

We can see this in attitudes to language, visual art, in specific (and very different hostility to Scots and Gaelic), in issues about leadership and curation, in attitudes to the Gàidhealtachd, and in general expressions of self-loathing and ‘cultural cringe.’ There is such deep ignorance of our own culture, even to the extent of denying that it does (or could possibly) exist, that even having this discussion is one that is fraught with difficulty and likely to attract mockery and anger. However in times of both cultural renewal and a heightened British nationalism, these expressions of anglonormative vision clash with the more simple desire for self-expression and re-education.

Here’s some examples of the problem.

This week we saw the former Labour MP Tom Harris tweet that:

No doubt Tom will be reaching for the Prozac at the news that Harry Potter is to be translated into Scots. by publisher Itchy Coo (see ‘Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stane’).

But what exactly is so depressing, and what attracts the ire of not just British nationalists but ordinary Scots?

‘MR and Mrs Dursley, o nummer fower, Privet Loan, were prood tae say that they were gey normal, thank ye awfie muckle.’

Scots language suffers from a quixotic double-attack. From one perspective it is derided as being ‘common’ / not really a language / slovenly / slang. There is a strong class element to this aversion which is closely allied to both social aspiration (shedding yourself of such crudity so as to assimilate more easily further up the social ladder), and to cleaving as closely as possible to the dominant cultural force (Anglo-British). Confusingly there is also a critique of Scots as being “middle class”. It’s an affectation and a concern of either a peripheral rural Scotland (ie not proper urban Scotland) or a marginal cultural obsession.

The hostility to gaelic has a different dimension. It is simultaneously less and considerably more threatening to monolinguists and cultural unionists. There is also an expressly religious (ie anti-Catholic) element to this. See for example the comments below the line in the Herald here.

Highland Migrants

Some of his is about historical ignorance. Language, history and geography can’t be disentangled.

BBC Scotland inform us last night they will be showing a programme in which: “Neil Oliver recounts the story of the 1773 highland migrants who left Scotland to settle in Nova Scotia. Tonight, 9pm, BBC Two Scotland”.

‘Highland migrants’ is an astonishing phrase to use in this context. Although it’s noted that refugees fleeing warzones in the past few years have been re-designated as ‘migrants’ so perhaps there is consistency here.

The National Museum of Scotland manages to put on a major exhibition about the Jacobite Rebellion (s) – the first for decades – without reference to gaelic language. Not only was gaelic language and culture central to the worldview of the Jacobites, their defeat led to the languages annihilation and the systematic destruction of a peoples culture.

To exclude it from the narrative is both ahistorical it is also culturally ignorant and politically retributive. It is as some have described it: an act of “linguistic and cultural erasure.”

As Wilson McLeod, Professor of Gaelic at Edinburgh University and Anja Gunderloch, Lecturer in Celtic have written:

“The NMS promises that the exhibition will ‘examine some of the misconceptions that have surrounded’ the Jacobites, but they appear to have maintained one of the most enduring and pernicious misconceptions: that the Gaels were minor players in the Jacobite movement and that the English language suffices to tell all aspects of the Jacobite story. The physical exhibition will be entirely in English, with the Gaelic element in the ‘Jacobite story’ downplayed and marginalised.”

None of this is new and it is played out in various fields.

Back in 2013 Murdo Macdonald wrote on ‘Finding Scottish Art’ for Bella. He said:

“In 2010 I presented a paper to the Rannsachadh na Gàidhlig conference at the University of Aberdeen entitled ‘Reflections on the Neglect of the Visual Art of the Scottish Gàidhealtachd.’ In that paper I noted the curious neglect of the visual aspect of a Highland culture that had produced both world class illuminated manuscripts in the seventh, eighth and ninth centuries and the founder figure of modern Scottish painting in the nineteenth century. At the heart of my concern was, and is, the necessity of re-appropriating such lost histories. Such concern has informed my research not just with respect to Highland art but with respect to Scottish art in general. There should be no need for such re-appropriation, yet even after the publication of Duncan Macmillan’s comprehensive book on Scottish painting in 1990, it was easy to find yourself in one of those strange conversations in which your interlocutor was earnestly trying to persuade you that in fact the area you were studying did not exist. Typically people would tell me that Scotland was a literary nation and that the visual tradition, was, almost as a consequence of this, of no account. Since many of my interlocutors were themselves Scots, or others sympathetic to Scottish culture, this struck me as an intriguingly auto-destructive attitude.  But what underlay it was, of course, ignorance. A refusal to believe that any significant cultural tradition existed, if they themselves had little knowledge of it. ”


Into this debate comes the annual Edinburgh Festival, which frequently feels like it’s an event that’s not really for the residents of the city, and which seems only notionally located in Scotland.

An ‘Alternative MacTaggart’ is announced:

DialMforMurdo asks: “In what world is having a multi-millionaire spend one hour addressing a room full of professional TV lovelies an alternative MacTaggart?”

The answer is of course only in a world in which the festival itself is an act of cultural colonisation, alienation and corporate self-flagellation.

And only in a world where George Robertson can stand on a public stage and suggest that Scotland does not have language and culture to speak of.

In part this may just be ignorance, the reflexive gaze of spending a long time away from Scotland in institutions who view the world through the prism of Britishness and being weened in the comfort of the Mother of All Parliaments, or just a generational  cultural cringe.

This year the Edinburgh Festival will celebrate its 70th Anniversary. Plans are to takeover St Andrew Square for two nights celebration.

If the organisers were minded they could celebrate the various directors of the festival since its inception in 1947.

How would that look?

Of course none of the ten directors over seven decades have been Scottish, all have been men, all have been white and there is more than a whiff of aristocratic, paternalism to the roll-call:

1947–49: Sir Rudolf Bing
1950–55: Sir Ian Bruce Hope Hunter
1956–60: Robert Noel Ponsonby
1961–65: George Henry Hubert Lascelles, 7th Earl of Harewood
1966–78: Peter Diamand
1979–83: Sir John Richard Gray Drummond
1984–91: Frank Dunlop
1992–2006: Sir Brian McMaster
October 2006–2014 Sir Jonathan Mills
October 2014 – present Fergus Linehan

There now needs to follow a disclaimer which says that much of the festival is brilliant, inspiring, exciting and not least of this is brought by its internationalism. But then there is absolutely nothing whatsoever about arguing for a locatedness, a rooted sense of cultural confidence which would detract from that internationalism. It is only in a country ill at ease with its own cultural roots that you’d think that, and it is frankly inconceivable to imagine a similar festival anywhere with such a history of leadership.

The story of the Tiger Who Came to Tea is a classic by childrens author Judith Kerr. The tiger appears not as a threat but a benign and comforting (if greedy) character. If the tiger represents valuing and expressing our culture (s) and language (s) there is nothing to be scared of (or depressed) by.

The frequently expressed fear that Scots or Gaelic is being or will be “rammed down our throats” is neither desirable nor possible.

We are left instead with ongoing acts of “linguistic and cultural erasure” – acts which we are often complicit in.

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Comments (43)

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  1. chris says:

    Re the Tom Harris tweet. I don’t know about depressing. We have had great fun re-reading favourite children’s books in Scots. Just had great fun with the different rhythms and words in Scots. Then following that up by looking at where these words came from. I respectfully suggest curmudgeon’ like Tom Harris need to lighten up a bit. I believe that reading these books in Scots made them more fun second time around and has helped fuel my kids excitement around reading. No bad thing.

  2. Crubag says:

    I’d take issue with a couple of things here – the Jacobite/Hanoverian faction fight ranged across all three kingdoms – but I agree ignoring the Gaelic element in Scotland is incredible.

    And some emigrants from the Highlands were willing migrants – it was a huge opportunity for them.

    But any problems with the national cultural institutions are within the control of the Scottish government, they appoint the boards and pay the salaries. For that matter another public body, Bord na Gaidhlig, should stick their oar in.

  3. Big Jock says:

    You will never meet anyone who hates Scotland and all things Scottish as much as the British Scotland does.

    They are embarrassed that Scottish culture still survives the Britishing of Caledonia.

    1. joe gibson says:

      The sad thing is there are a hell of a lot of them.

  4. Fearghas MacFhionnlaigh says:

    “Anglonormative”. Such a strikingly precise and resonant term. Did ever a country so willingly bite its own tongue, or slit its own throat, as Écosse manquée…

  5. Del says:

    Look at the comments section on any story in the Scotsman where gaelic is mentioned. No don’t look – it’ll simply stress you. Most folks there would love to crush the language under their jackboots, citing gaelic schools and gaelic signposts and wasted money. The Scotsman may well support and review all sorts of arts in Scotland, but many of their readers constitute a North British wasteland. No history, no culture. The price of something (usually wrong) and the value of nothing.

    1. Calum McKay says:

      Ask them why they dislike Gaelic, you will get “I just do” or similar response. The best way to undermine a culture is to erradicate its language and down play its arts, in the vacum its easy to substitute with another language and its arts.

      Interesting to see the stand off in the Northern Irish Assembly, a major stumbling block is unionists refusal to give the Irish language official status.

      unionism in both Scotland and Ireland, at its core is colonialism, pure and simple.

  6. Fay Kennedy says:

    As V.Woolf the snobbish English writer said “Most of her fellow country men and women don’t even know where their grandfather came from.” The importance of language to remembering is vital. And the colonisers wherever they went put in measures to destroy the lingua franca of the local inhabitants. Nothing much has changed. Dispossesion, displacement and ultimately despair.

    1. Mrs Hurtle says:

      Virginia Woolf was patrician but there’s no evidence that she was a snob, surely?

  7. Wullie says:

    Neil Oliver opined that the Nova Scotians are more Scottish than him! widnae be hard that!

    1. MacGillieleabhar says:

      Aye Wullie, my thoughts as well as I heard it.

    2. Richard Wickenden (ex Tory from the mid-ninetys) says:

      Neil Oliver is a disgrace to Scotland. I would not listen to him or watch anything on TV which was in any way connected to him.

  8. Tony Rozga says:

    Brilliant, probably the best thing I have read on Bella. It’s all about being comfortable and confident about ourselves.

  9. DialMforMurdo says:

    My ongoing despair about the MacTaggart lecture and its now laughable ‘Alternative’ stems from the fact that when it was set up in honour of James MacTaggart, a prickly, no nonsense actor turned writer, turned director and producer who dragged television drama away from the cul de sac of naturalism and embraced the potential of drama.

    Those of a certain age will recall the feast of drama on our tellys from the 1960’s and seventies particularly the ‘Wednesday plays’ and its successor ‘Play for Today’.

    The roll call of those involved writing and direction was legendary.

    Dennis Potter, Ken Loach, Christopher Logue, David Mercer, Peter Watkins and Nell Dunn all made their starts in ‘The Wednesday Play’ they were joined by the likes of Jack Rosenthal, Mike Leigh, Peter MacDougall, Alan Bleasdale, John Bowen, Alan Clarke Ian McEwan, John Osborne, Stephen Poliakoff, David Hare, Willy Russell and yes I’m aware as I write this there’s only one woman in the list of dramatists. At the core of them all was the influence of James MacTaggart, he turned the dial up and revolutionised tv drama into what is universally regarded as the classical period.

    After his death, collabrators Troy Kennedy Martin and many others including the then highly regarded Gus McDonald , set about creating a memorial to MacTaggart, where writers, researchers, thinkers, agitators, the discontents, could have a safe place, a platform where they, “would be allowed to speak freely because their bosses wouldn’t be there.”

    The early roll call of speakers is mouth watering for those needing to slake their intellectual thirst:

    John McGrath
    Marcel Ophüls
    Norman Lear
    Jeremy Isaacs
    John Mortimer

    After 1980 the descent began, where the bosses came and told the agitators and malcontents what their ‘vision’ was. Reaching its nadir when Rupert Murdoch was invited to give the lecture in 1989. Dissent was all but suffocated, with only the odd rare exception, the notable one being Dennis Potter, in the end stages of pancreatic cancer, telling the attendees that he’d nicknamed his cancer ‘Rupert’.

    Since then, it’s been CEO’s and Director General’s interspersed with occasional and ‘edgy’ comedic writers/multi-millionaires.

    This year’s farce of an ‘Alternative MacTaggart’, with the no doubt well intentioned Russell Brand is nothing more than an overpaid Jester being invited to come and poke fun at the hands which feed him. All carried out in knowing conviviality, with little regard for the ethos of MacTaggart or those who were influenced by his visceral approach to what we all consume via the box in the corner.

    In keeping with Mike’s article. The TV Festival takes place in Edinburgh, other than one Scot on the board, the only connection with Scotland is that the George Hotel in Edinburgh hosts the delegates. It has limited relevence to either our capital city or our country.

  10. H Scott says:

    The remarkable thing about the cultural cringe is that it’s ignorance masquerading as cultural superiority.

  11. Big Jock says:

    An international festival in Scotland that excludes Scots from leading it. Sack the board!

    1. Graeme Purves says:

      Fergus Linehan is doing a much better job as Director of the Edinburgh International Festival than his British Empire Loyalist predecessor.

  12. Graeme Purves says:

    Have you had a look at the programme for the 2017 Edinburgh International Book Festival yet? Charlotte Square Gardens will feel even more like a decrepit Hampstead-on-Forth than usual this year! There is minimal engagement with the great geopolitical issues of our time, the implications of Brexit, the culture and politics of the country in which it is being held, Scotland’s relationship with Europe, or even England’s self-destructive identity crisis. Literary giants like Paddy Ashdown, Vince Cable, Judy Murray and Roy Hattersley will be there, though, so all’s right with the world!

    1. Craig says:

      …which is why we should all be supporting Jamie Jauncey’s talk on RB Cunninghame Graham on 22 August at 12.30!

    2. Craig says:

      There’s Jamie Jauncey’s talk on RB Cunninghame Graham at 12.30 on 22 August…

      1. Graeme Purves says:

        ‘Got that!

  13. Jozef O Luain says:

    Recently, on one of my too rare visits to Edinburgh, I was struck by the number of Union flags fluttering there on the the breeze; I might have been in Denniston, Bridgeton or Govan.

  14. john appleby says:

    Interesting reading this from here in North Wales where the Welsh language has survived in a lot better shape than the indigeous languages of Scotland. Currently Welsh is spoken by around one fifth of the population as a first language. I’ve never really understood why this should be so? After all, Wales was colonised by England a lot further back and was equally suppressed through military force whenever rebellion stirred. It is also geographically a lot closer to the London centre of power.
    One explation I’ve heard is that it was the Welsh Methodist chapels who helped keep the language alive.
    Despite the relative strength of the Welsh language, the fact remains that Wales has been a lot more heavily colonised by English incomers-like me!- than Scotland. And there is a lot of hostility towards the language from English retirees in particular, who settle on the north Wales coast, dubbed ‘Costa Geriatrica’. These are the UKIP/Tory voting areas where Welsh is rarely heard or spoken. Yet move five miles inland and Welsh is suddenly widely spoken once again.

    At least the Scottish languages have survived in better shape than Cornish. Pity poor old Cornwall. A Celtic region reduced to the status of an English county!

  15. Big Jock says:

    The Yoons just like everyone to know they are still there. Plenty of wealthy English types in Edinburgh with red trousers and Rupert the Bear jackets. I used to walk from my work to Ravelston where I parked and count the Scots accents. It was easier than counting the English ones as I ran out of fingers and toes.

  16. Willie says:

    We are not fit for purpose.

    Our country is full of quisling traitors. They are beyond redemption. We must, as a national priority no less, build a tall tower, and have a bonfire of the quislings…

    Then we must burn their books and all record of them.

    And if not we shall suffer eternal slavery.

    Other than that I’m off for a pint now. And on a serious note, there are many who genuinely are unaware of how pervasive education, the media, and the Quislings have been on folks perceptions

  17. Fearghas MacFhionnlaigh says:

    I have no poem to hand about a Tiger and Tea, but here’s a few quatrains about a Butcher and Breakfast…

    “If you had seen this toast before it was made,
    You’d lift up your hands and bless marmalade!” (Adapted)


    The apple of identity crumbles on the tongue
    as shortcake from a tartan tin
    or oatcake too thin to bear the buttered blade.
    (Our dentures fix their nerveless grin).

    Some worm by ear insinuated
    hath drilled our brain into a riddle.
    Each kernel of thought drops through a slot.
    A glut of glume bestrews our griddle.

    From ransacked mouth the husks still spill.
    From cankered core pour hollow pips.
    All fail to germinate on half-baked floor.
    A tongue of Highland Toffee licks our lips.

    Native recipes we scorn to approve.
    No peat-smoke reek! No Teuchters’ Babel!
    Only Full English Breakfast on North British Stove!
    Thick Cumberland sausage to command our Table!


    Ubhal an dearbh-aithne, bruanach air teanga,
    mar spruan cho fuadain ri tartan an tiona,
    no aran-coirce ro thana fo sgithinn làn ìme.
    Ar fiaclan-brèig’ a’ cur drèin gun chlì oirnn.

    Liùg cnuimh gun chagar a-steach air ar cluais.
    Chagainn i gu slìogach ar n-eanchainn na ruideal.
    Tro mhogall nan toll sgiolc smaogail ar smuain.
    Am moll sgaoilt gu mall ann am meall air a’ ghreideil.

    Beul bochd air a’ phoca ga bhòcadh le càth.
    Cridhe crìon na chriathar a nì liath gach silean.
    Gun gin a’ ginideachadh air cloich-ghràin an làir.
    Teanga tofai-bò a’ suathadh ar bilean.

    An reasabaidh dùthchasach air a chur suarach,
    le fàileadh ceò-mòna, blas cànan ar sinnseir.
    Fàilt’ air Làn-Bhracaist Beurla, stòbh Breatainn a Tuath –
    isbean Chumbarlainn tiugh a’ toirt bàrr air ar truinnsear!

    (Fearghas MacFhionnlaigh)

    1. Fearghas MacFhionnlaigh says:

      Correction. Second line should read “shortbread” not “shortcake”!

      1. Fearghas MacFhionnlaigh says:

        A note regarding the “toast” couplet at top of APPLE OF IDENTITY poem, up the thread. The original is:

        “Had you seen these roads before they were made.
        You would lift up your hands and bless General Wade.”

        Sir Walter Scott quotes it somewhere, but the apparent attribution is to Major William Caulfeild (sic), who took over from Field Marshall George Wade (1673-1748) with road, bridge, and fort construction in the North of Scotland, designed to facilitate British troop movements in the quelling of the Jacobite insurrections. In 1725 Wade had been appointed “Commander in Chief of His Majesty’s forces, castles, forts and barracks in North Britain”.

        Wiki states:

        “General Wade was responsible for 250 miles (400 km) of road, 40 bridges and 2 forts – whereas Caulfeild was responsible for 900 miles (1,400 km) of road and over 600 bridges.”

        Wade built the Tay Bridge at Aberfeldy, and his military roads “linked the garrisons at Ruthven, Fort George, Fort Augustus, and Fort William.”

        In Gaelic Fort William is called simply “An Gearasdan” (“The Garrison”).

        The English names of the last three townships above can be traced to: Prince William Augustus (1721-1765), son of George II. Better known to Scots as the Duke of Cumberland. Or, more frequently, “Butcher” Cumberland,

        From an article in the Herald in 2005:

        “In new a poll conducted for BBC History Magazine…Cumberland was selected as the worst Briton of the eighteenth century by Professor Rab Houston, chairman of modern history at St Andrews University. He wrote:

        ‘He showed a particular disdain for the defeated Jacobites after Culloden in 1746. Thus, fleeing soldiers were pursued and slaughtered while the wounded could expect no help except to be shot, bayoneted or clubbed to death. At a time when the etiquette of warfare was considered very important, Cumberland was able to dispense with it by labelling the Highlanders inhuman savages.’

        “Professor Houston said that the brutish way in which Cumberland went about dismantling Highland culture by disarming the clans, banning the wearing of Highland dress, suppressing certain surnames and the use of the Gaelic language amounted to an early example of ethnic cleansing. He said Cumberland ‘destroyed the social nexus of the clan that was at the heart of Highland society'”.

        Wade himself, of course, was honoured by a new verse in the National Anthem:

        “Lord, grant that Marshal Wade
        May, by thy mighty aid,
        Victory bring.
        May he sedition hush
        And, like a torrent, rush
        Rebellious Scots to crush.
        God save the King.”

  18. Tintock says:

    Why not put a copy of W L Lorimer’s New Testament in Scots in every baby box? That would really put the cat among the pigeons.

  19. DC says:

    Exactly the same process imposed on Wales too, the differences only in the detail.

  20. Sheena J says:

    I recommend this film tomorrow at 1.15pm in the Odeon cinema 4 Edinburgh Lothian Road. https://www.edfilmfest.org.uk/2017/groove-not-trivial

  21. SleepingDog says:

    Perhaps Christianity had some role in diminishing, defacing, demonising, demoting, distorting and destroying Scottish culture?

    Incidentally, regarding the tiger, how important a loss to Scottish Celtic culture were the animals and landscapes that gave life to the old tales? Without modern media including picture books, would most people have known what significant animals that were locally extinct looked like?

  22. Chid says:

    I remember some years ago an Edinburgh Festival opening with a performance of Judas Macabeus – a cultural insult to Scots in my opinion.

  23. June Cocksedge says:

    Excellent article and poem! We have a long way to go with finding confidence in our own languages (Scots, Gaelic & Scottish English) and our own history and culture. Our independence movement is helping and will continue to do so. I am glad there are people in Scotland pointing out these great holes in our present culture.

  24. Bruce Barclay says:

    Although I agree that our local dialects are important culturally I dont think that it is a political point nor should it impinge on our learning of English. I feel the use of dialects lessened through the need to be understood more nationally and/or globally as our world opened up. I’m very much a Doric speaker with my own family n friends from the area but change when I’m down at family in Glasgow as it makes communication easier and the accent the younger kids use here Leaves me looking blankly at them, no idea what there saying . So I think maybe more effort should be put into improving there communication skills with others and keep the dialects as very much a cultural subject rather than be put into common usage.

    1. Alf Baird says:

      Scots is a language rather than a dialect. Many countries teach thair bairns two or more languages at school, that is the norm. They prioritise the indigenous languages, and English, which is used in many nations (especially ex colonies) as an ‘administrative’ language. Already in Scotland kids can learn English and Gaelic, where Gaelic is spoken locally or where there is demand for it. What we need to do is ensure that Scots speaking children have the same opportunity to learn thair ain mither tung an aw – that is about fairness and respecting human rights. Learning your indigenous language should not be seen as an inconvenience. Without the Scots language there can be no Scottish culture given that language is the basis of culture.

      1. Graeme Purves says:

        “All the languages of Scotland live relative to each other. Some need more support than others. But none is singularly adequate to the experience of Scotland.”

        Alan Riach in his essay on Gavin Douglas, ‘Passion and Ordered Energy’, The National, 5 May 2017. Alan knows what he is talking about.

  25. Fearghas MacFhionnlaigh says:

    “Perhaps Christianity had some role in diminishing, defacing, demonising, demoting, distorting and destroying Scottish culture?”
    Fearghas MacFhionnlaigh replies:

    The above comment has compelling validity regarding the Arts after the Reformation. Due, I think to the Scottish brand of Calvinism being blighted by a dualistic, world-denying, Gnosticism. The latter influence perhaps gaining entrance via a pietistic wing of the Puritans, a large quantity of whose writings were translated into Gaelic.

    However, with Christianity being given short shrift almost by reflex these days, I may be excused for taking advantage of perhaps a fairly casual remark in order to reiterate that in another field, ie the struggle for constitutional government, Christians have certainly made an illustrious historical contribution not just to Scottish but to human democracy.

    A significant early example is the Berwickshire founder of the Scottish tradition of philosophy John Duns Scotus (1266-1308), whose thought apparently framed the Declaration of Arbroath. Prof Alexander Broadie makes this case in his 2010 audio lecture (Royal Society of Edinburgh):


    The writings of John Duns Scotus also influenced John Mair (Gleghornie,1467-1550) who became a highly significant professor at the University of Paris and sought to curb the autocratic power of the Pope within the Catholic Church. Though he himself remained Catholic, his ‘Conciliar Movement’ principles influenced the constitutional thinking of the Protestant Reformers of the 16th century, informing the disputes against absolute monarchies in Europe of the 17th century.

    Again, the treatise ‘Art and Science of Government among the Scots’ by Calvinist-humanist George Buchanan (1506-1582) had a huge influence on political thought in Britain and America. John Milton in his ‘Defence of the People of England’ wrote concerning just government: “For Scotland I refer you to Buchanan”.

    Presbyterian minister and St Andrews Professor, Samuel Rutherford (1600-1661) in his ‘Lex, Rex’ laid the foundation for the libertarian ideas of the US Declaration of Independence and Constitution. Indeed, the American War for Independence was referred to by the British as a “Presbyterian Rebellion”. John Locke (‘Father of Classical Liberalism’) was himself much influenced by Rutherford’s ‘Lex, Rex’.

    The keynote of all this Scottish Christian heritage of political thought was how to oppose the injustice of absolutism.

    I have an interest in the thinking of the late Dutch Christian philosopher Herman Dooyeweerd (1894-1977), who wrote extensively on the nature of the “just state”. The jurist and humanist G.E. Langemeyer called him “the most original philosopher Holland has produced, even Spinoza not excepted”. For anyone interested, I have posted an extensive extract of Dooyeweerd’s historical analysis of the nature of the “State” here:


    Dooyeweerd’s style of writing can be dauntingly academic, but essentially he identifies two structural parameters of a State. The first is the more obvious one that a State can only exist at all if its Government retains a military monopoly over the given territory (interesting to consider this factor in the current UK v Scotland [Trident] v Europe context).

    Such dominance could of course lapse into tyranny, so Dooyeweerd’s upper parameter is that a State is structurally called to seek justice for its citizens (and we immediately note that the desire to re-assert Scottish Statehood is borne of an increasingly urgent awareness of the structural “injustice” of Scotland’s terminal feebleness within the UK State).

    1. SleepingDog says:

      @Fearghas, I think you miss the point of my (admittedly rather throwaway) comment of the effect of Christianity on Scottish everyday (not elite) culture. Having the word of God locked up in an alien language (Latin) for over a millennium, with a priesthood as mediators, would have a very different effect on culture than which was common, accessible and that ordinary people could re-tell and add to. And who knew what all those cloistered monks were up to (apart from brewing beer and creating graphic novels)?

      Even (mis)translated, the Bible stories (ranging from charming fables to hideous celebrations of cruelty and genocide) would contain much that is mysterious and foreign, difficult to relate to locality and environment in Scotland. Modern scholars are still baffled by some of the animals named in the texts.

      Wikipedia says that the wild boar (which I have already alluded to) was mentioned only once.

      What affect would this have on listeners? Would they see themselves as second- or third-class Christians on the periphery of a world centred on Jerusalem, like the old maps show? Would they be passive? Or create their own versions of Christian culture, with the almost certain risk of heresy?

      Academic Yuval Noah Harari in his book Homo Deus makes the point that the Children of Book (Old Testament religions) converted the pagan’s animist relation where animals spoke and humans were just another kind of animal, to an overlordship where the place of humans in God’s hierarchy was to be always above soulless animals, who could now be treated as property.

      Of course, the animists were right, humans were just another animal in the great tree of life, and the Christian view was a backward step that has contributed to the environmental damage and industrial farming cruelty of today. Would we have pigs immobilised in pens if we still honoured the talking wild boars of Scottish forests in every cultural references?

      1. Fearghas MacFhionnlaigh says:

        Thanks for expanding on your comment. It is always interesting to hear different views. Discussion of preconceptions would be necessary for further dialogue. This is not the occasion. There is little point in exchanging dogmatic assertions such as:

        “the Christian view was a backward step that has contributed to the environmental damage and industrial farming cruelty of today”.

        As a lifelong (now elderly-ish) Christian and profound fan of all animals I find that accusation simply bewildering. Unless you equate Christianity with heartless capitalism.

        Regarding the environment and animals (and indeed languages – the main point of Mike Small’s article) the keynote of Christianity for me is: “stewardship”.

        On a conciliatory note. As you will know, early Irish monks were famed for their fondness of nature. The following is a poem from the 9th Century poem (written in the margin of a manuscript copy of Priscian’s treatise on Latin grammar). It is anonymous:

        Dom-farcai fidbaide fál
        fom-chain loíd luin, lúad nād cél;
        hūas mo lebrán, ind línech,
        fom-chain trírech inmn n-én.

        Fomm-chain coí menn, medair mass,
        hi mbrot glass de dingnaib doss.
        Debrath! nom-Choimmdiu-coíma:
        caín-scríbaimm fo roída ross.

        Prose translation by Gerard Murphy, ‘Early Irish Lyrics’:


        A hedge of trees overlooks me;
        a blackbird’s lay sings to me
        (an announcement I shall not conceal);
        above my lined book the birds’ chanting sings to me.

        A clear-voiced cuckoo sings to me (goodly utterance)
        in a grey cloak from bush fortresses.
        The Lord is indeed good to me:
        well do I write beneath a forest of woodland.

        1. SleepingDog says:

          @Fearghas, I am happy to hear you explain and defend Christianity in these isles, and whether you believe it has been “short shrift” recently does not excuse it from being absented from the topic of the article (less tiger, more like an elephant in the room).

          The difference between the pleasant poem you quote and the more animist lyrics attributed to Celtic bard Taliesin should be clear:
          “I have been a sow, I have been a buck,
          I have been a sage, I have been a snout,
          I have been a horn, I have been a wild sow,
          I have been a shout in battle.
          I have been a torrent on the slope,
          I have been a wave on the extended shore.
          I have been the light sprinkling of a deluge,
          I have been a cat with a speckled head on three trees.
          I have been a circumference, I have been a head.
          A goat on an elder-tree.
          I have been a crane well filled, a sight to behold.
          Very ardent the animals of Morial,
          They kept a good stock.
          Of what is below the air, say the hateful men,
          Too many do not live, of those that know me.”

          The pagan poet is not a mere observer of nature, but a participant in nature, someone akin to the spirits in animals, waves and even the transient existence of a battle-cry.

          I appreciate what you mean by stewardship (as opposed to dominion), and certainly humanism and capitalism have justified exploitation of “lower animals”. And certain Christian saints have filled a gap with strong associations with nature and animals.

          Nevertheless, I think you have somewhat avoided my main line of enquiry: whether Christianity has had effected a significant distancing or removal from nature of the common culture of Scotland. Perhaps at the very least you might concede that Christianity has had a dislocating effect, less hills and more heaven?

          1. Fearghas MacFhionnlaigh says:

            I like the Taliesin poem. I take your point that it’s lyrics are “more animist” than the “Scribe” poem. I am wondering if you are espousing animism yourself, or are just using it as a metaphor for a secularist version?

            Your argument, as I understand it, is that: 1) There existed in pre-Christian Celtic Britain a strong, even utopian, rapport with nature. 2) Some early Christianity showed promise in that regard. 3) Later Christianity lost that affinity and instead trampled nature.

            You say: “I think you have somewhat avoided my main line of enquiry: whether Christianity has had effected a significant distancing or removal from nature of the common culture of Scotland. Perhaps at the very least you might concede that Christianity has had a dislocating effect, less hills and more heaven?”

            I would respond by pointing out that in my previous post I talked of Scottish Calvinism being “blighted by a dualistic, world-denying, Gnosticism”. What more do you want from me? 🙂

            Some traditions of Christianity foster awareness of nature better than others.

            There is a crucial clarification I must make here. I am not a follower of “Christianity”. I follow Christ. Christ as Lord of all reality. Christ as source of meaning of all reality. Integral to that, for years now, has been a preoccupation with, as it were, the “nature of Nature”, and how to relate to it. The Incarnation, Cross, and Resurrection as endorsement of, redemption of, “embodiment”.

            A key feature of Herman Dooyeweerd’s philosophy is that in our deepest selfhood we transcend time even now (Ecclesiastes: “He has set eternity in the human heart”). Our call is to relate temporal existence to that transcendence. And vice versa. We are “pearl-divers” (my image).

            Dooyeweerd deploys the German term “Hineinleben” in the sense of “experientially entering into our own physicality and that of our surroundings”. He alerts us against inner flight. He encourages us towards retrieval of our full humanity, with the welfare of creation and society being intrinsic to that remit.

          2. SleepingDog says:

            @Fearghas, hardly utopian, but perhaps animists have a constant dialogue with nature. I think that early Christianity was resisted in some respects, and took a while to assert its exclusivity. Insights into your personal faith and detours into elite philosophy are interesting but hardly pertinent to the topic of this article on oppressed Scottish culture.

            I believe a powerful foreign creature did visit Scotland: with each tooth a censor; every orange stripe a flame, and every black a burnt book or body. And when it had chewed up Scottish culture, there was little left but shit and ash: no parent, but fertiliser for seeds of a future culture. Not the English lion, but the Christian tiger.

            Icons of Scottish culture like Robert Burns had to tiptoe round the church censors. Christian fundamentalists would ban Harry Potter if they still had the power in Scotland as they do in parts of the USA.

            What example does it set to world for Scotland to maintain the blasphemy law until the present? Can anyone seriously argue that Christianity has not oppressed indigenous Scottish culture?

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